The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

Meanwhile, Jonathan Doors had no shortage of practical matters to occupy his attention. In effect, a new world was being born, and every facet of his worldwide enterprises was going to have to be rethought. The room just indoors from the patio was filled with communications gear that allowed the owner to keep in touch with governments, workers, and customers everywhere around the planet.

Listening now to the bursts of excited babble from inside, he gathered that his helpers had established some kind of betting pool among themselves as to how close the nearest Taelon landing would be to this house.

“Johnny.” Amanda’s voice was low and stressed. “Maybe you should get me a pill.”

“Sure, lover.” He quickly located the little box. Extracting a single tablet, he brought it to his wife with a glass of fruit juice. It was a medicine that eased the working of the lungs, but it could not be repeated often, and the effects were temporary.

“There’s got to be one in ell-ay,” said a voice of one of the workers inside the house, in the tone of someone recapitulating a series of accepted facts.

“San Francisco, for sure,” a coworker replied, in the same mode.

Then the first voice again, in a sudden query, in a tone that had abruptly turned to current business. “What’s coming in now, Bess?”

Bess was the radar operator currently on duty at the nearby small private landing strip, owned and operated by Doors International, and her latest communication to the boss was an eye-opener. Suddenly her voice was on the speaker-phone, and she was saying: “Chief, it looks like there’s gonna be one a whole hell of a lot closer than ell-ay.”

Doors turned, moved toward the lighted doorway. “What do you mean? Where?”

Bess’s answer filled the space around him. “I think your house is sitting just about on ground zero.”

Doors turned away from the light and automatically looked up. By luck he was just in time to see it coming, a darting, blue-white presence in the sky, an insectoid shape, openly, gaudily bright with its own interior lights. To Doors it seemed to be saying: Here I am, Earthfolk. Take a shot at me if you choose, if you want to waste your energy that way. The Taelons, it seemed, had nothing to hide, and no need to be afraid of anything the warlike folk of the third planet from the Sun might try to do to them.

Not knowing the size of the visiting spacecraft made it hard to be sure, but as nearly as Doors could judge the ship was coming down within a hundred yards of his house, just below the orchard whose leafy treetops formed an irregular surface at eye level when he looked out from his patio. The approach was swift, smooth, and startlingly, almost frighteningly silent.

Bending beside the wheelchair, he murmured, “Mandy, I think we’ve got visitors.”

“Oh, Johnny. We may get to see them, talk to them.”

To be thus singled out for alien attention was of course surprising. But Jonathan Doors was not utterly astonished; in the back of his mind he had been half-expecting something of the kind. He was, after all, one of the most influential people on the planet, and it was not to be wondered at that the newcomers, well-educated in our ways, should choose to approach him soon after their arrival.

The trees in the small orchard below the broad stone patio displayed spring blossoms. Doors was already moving, going down to meet the visitors to his property halfway.

Amanda called something after him just as he was leaving the patio, but in his single-minded haste he had not tried to understand her, or respond.

Moving quickly and decisively as usual, he descended so rapidly to ground level that none of his employees were able to catch up in time to accompany him; and so he was alone under the flowering trees of his small apple orchard when he came face to face with two visitors from beyond the stars.

How beautiful, was his first thought, when he got his first good look at the two bipedal beings who came walking gracefully toward him. Not far behind them their ship sat, looming, glowing. They themselves were not that much different from human beings, but he knew with his first glimpse of the visitors that he would never mistake one species for the other. And that first thought was followed quickly by another: How appropriate, this time and place for this meeting.

The two were considerably taller than Doors, both, he judged, well over six feet. Doors thought the Taelons were a good match for the pictures of themselves they had been transmitting for almost a year now. Their heads, uncovered and practically hairless, looked slightly larger than any human heads he could remember seeing. What he was able to observe of their skin was pale in the uncertain light, their faces handsome. Their limbs, inside close-fitting blue costumes, were willowy without appearing weak, and the way they carried themselves suggested models, or monarchs. One of them seemed to be wearing a kind of backpack, while the other was unburdened by any baggage or equipment.

In an open space between rows of trees, facing the star travelers from fifteen feet away, the human stopped.

He said, “I am Jonathan Doors, and I bid you welcome to our world.” As he spoke, he extended both arms in an open gesture. This tentative offer of an embrace, or a handshake, was graciously declined.

The Taelons stopped where they were. One spoke, introducing first himself and then his companion. His voice was almost seductive, of great unthreatening tenderness. He gave his name as Va’lon, and introduced his companion, who was wearing the backpack, as Namor. As some of the recent radio messages had suggested, single names were apparently the rule, at least when visiting alien worlds.

“We are grateful, Mr. Doors, for your hospitable reaction to our intrusion,” Va’lon said. “Most of our landings have not been on private property, but in your case there were important reasons why we did not choose to wait through all the intricacies of diplomacy.”

Moving back a step, Doors gestured with a wide sweep of one arm. “Come into my house.” When they were walking, the three of them more or less together, he added, “I suppose your ‘important reasons’ have something to do with economics? In my experience, most important reasons do.”

“Something, indeed, Mr. Doors. There will be many matters of trade to be discussed. But that is not the over-riding reason for our presence here at your house tonight.”

As Doors and his visitors approached the house, two or three of his employees were hurrying to meet them, down the stairs that led from patio to orchard. The humans began a babble of questions as soon as they caught sight of their chief, but instantly fell into awed silence when their eyes fell on the two who walked just behind him.

No sooner had the two Companions walked onto the patio than they discovered Amanda in her chair, and immediately approached her. Everyone else was temporarily ignored. Before anyone had time to make a speech—not that anyone seemed eager to do so—Va’lon and Namor were bowing graciously over the lady of the house and introducing themselves. Almost in the same breath, or so it seemed, they began to press her with solicitous questions about the reason for her being incapacitated, and her prospects for recovery.

“You must not suppose that our curiosity is idle,” Va’lon hastily assured her when she seemed bewildered. Moments later, when Amanda only closed her eyes and nodded faintly, the Companion turned to her husband. “No, Jonathan—may I call you Jonathan—?”

“You may.”

“—I believe it quite possible that your wife’s health can be fully restored.”

Doors, feeling suddenly light-headed, looked around for some patio furniture, spotted the nearest chair, went to it and sat down. For just a moment, the great events affecting the whole population of the earth would have to wait.

“Do I understand you correctly?” he got out at last. Looking halfway across the flagstoned space, he met Amanda’s dark eyes with his own. “You think she can be cured?”

Namor’s head moved immediately in a small, tilting nod, obviously a sign of agreement It would seem he had been practicing earthly gestures as well as speech.

The Companion said, “Of course I will be able to speak with greater authority when I have conducted a thorough examination. The case appears somewhat difficult at first sight, but I think we may safely promise that at least a great improvement in her condition is attainable.”

“If you could do that…” Doors got to his feet again.

“We can do many things that you will find surprising,” Va’lon assured him.

One of Amanda’s regular nurses had come out onto the patio, and more introductions were in order.

At that point Amanda said that she was feeling tired, and wanted to be taken inside. While that was being managed, Va’lon managed to steer his host away from the French doors and to one side of the darkened patio, where for the moment the two of them were quite alone. But there the Taelon seemed content for the moment to gaze at the stars, leaving it up to the human to decide what to do with this first real chance for private conversation.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred